Looking at our message boards and around the internet, it seems like people don’t much like the Beowulf trailer. We knew this was going to happen. Devin’s got that angle covered pretty well. Watching the trailer online this morning, it’s as we assumed — compared to a big screen showing, it plays horribly online, even in HD.
The part of the post-footage conversation that he didn’t hear, perhaps, was Jeremy and I talking about how to emphasize what we thought really worked in the footage — the designs, Grendel, and the actual 3D process — without verging into shill-dom for a movie that’s obviously got issues to overcome.
There’s no good end to that conversation, but as Devin said, it does play much, much better on the big screen in 3D. I’ve never cared for 3D processes and I’m still on the fence overall, but there’s no question that RealD 3D, the process used for the presentation last night, looks fantastic. I’m not talking about the obvious Jaws 3D moments, though Zemeckis has programmed in several of those. It’s the sense of extra dimension given to everything that caught me. It works great in the atmospheric shots, like Beowulf standing alone in the huge cavern home of Grendel and his mother, or in the reaction to Hrothgar’s hall full of slaughtered soldiers.
Grendel looks wonderful. We saw only a little of the actual fight (that’s in reel one, not yet finished) but what we did catch was energetic and breathtaking. The design for Grendel is excellent, and Crispin Glover delivers some potent work for the last minutes of the character’s life. It helps, perhaps, that he doesn’t have to look human.
The actual humans still have to battle with Ye Olde Deade Eyes. Some of the close-ups look very impressive, while other shots (the one that stood out for a lot of people last night was Beowulf addressing Hrothgar’s hall after his victory over Grendel) were plagued with lifeless extras and hangers-on. Moments like that can’t escape the video game cutscene feel. Since the reel we saw is finished, that’s going to remain a characteristic of the film.
There’s some confusion over the look of Beowulf himself, specifically why he looks less like Ray Winstone than all the other characters look like their actors. Neil Gaiman explained it thus: a big part of the problem in making their original script was the dramatic aging necessary for the character. He’s got to age 50 years. At the outset (and therefore in the trailer) we see a man quite a bit younger than Winstone, and eventually he’ll be much older. So they’ve taken more liberties with his appearance. Nothing lacking in Winstone’s voice performance, though, which in the reel we saw was as good as you’d hope.
Yes, Angelina Jolie has high heels in one scene. I took it this way: that is not her real form. She’s using a charm to get Beowulf to, er, sympathize with her. To that effect she’s also seducing us, and while the high heels are definitely an overt bit of stylization, it was the smallest thing I had any sort of issue with.
My favorite aspect of the presentation: insights into the working relationship between Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery. While Gaiman sat very composed, telling his part of any given anecdote with the restraint of a proven storyteller, Avery would kind of leap into the conversation, at which point you could literally see Gaiman forcing himself to be patient, though he’d eventually dismiss Avary with a little wave of his hand. I’d love to sit in a room and watch them work. It would be fascinating.